MLewyn's blog

Using terminology to frame the debate

I recently saw a listserv post with the headline "the costs of automobilism."  The phrase "automobilism" makes automobile dependence seem like an alien ism, a sinister ideology like communism or fascism.  

By contrast, sprawl lobby types prefer the term "auto-mobility."  By associating driving with mobility, they suggest that cars equal freedom and opportunity.  After all, who would be against being mobile (or at least having the opportunity to be mobile)?

No, We Don't Need Walk-Ups (Or At Least Not Just Walk-Ups)

In reading arguments about Washington's height limits, one anti-height argument that I occasionally see is: "We don't need height for density-  we can just build 5-6 story buildings."  These kind of "walk-up" buildings typically can't afford elevators (except maybe at the high end of this range).  

Good trees, bad trees

Normally, trees on a street are a good thing.  Good trees (like this row of trees in Forest Hills, Queens) provide shade for a sidewalk.  But not all trees are so-well behaved.  Where there is no sidewalk, a tree can actually endanger pedestrians by preventing them from walking on grass.  For example, these

Getting serious about affordable housing

When I was at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Kansas City, I saw a speaker argue that walkability increases property values (a proposition I'm not taking a position on, at least not in this blog post).   When someone asked about affordability, he suggested inclusionary zoning as a solution.

When One-Way Streets Go Bad

In some places (e.g. Midtown Manhattan) one-way streets are relatively harmless.  In others, one-ways turn streets into speedways, threatening pedestrian safety and gutting neighborhood businesses (since someone going 50 mph is going to be less likely to stop for any reason).  How do you tell the difference?

The Problem With Traffic Lights

I had always thought that traffic lights calmed traffic.  But last week at the Partners for Smart Growth conference in Kansas City, I learned that at least sometimes, there was a better alternative.   Some of us went on a tour of the city's Westside neighborhood.  The neighborhood's major intersection once had traditional red, yellow and green lights, and now has a blinking red light telling drivers to slow down (essentially a kind of electronic stop sign). 

Another example of the fragility of sprawl (maybe)

After last week's snowstorm, New York City rebounded smartly: the streets are plowed, the subways are running.  By contrast, the school where I teach (40 miles out in Suffollk County) is closed.  Why?  Because the students mostly live in suburbs near the school, and many of them are snowed in because the county can't plow the roads fast enough.  Cars and blizzards simply do not mix, and evidently it is easier to repair a few train lines than it is to plow thousands of miles of roadways.   

What I (Sort of) Wish I'd Said

Last Friday, I gave a speech on conservatives and smart growth at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference.  At the panel discussion after the speech I was asked "what if you want to build something nice and your neighbor wants to build a car wash?"  I gave an honest but nuanced answer about how zoning is fine in the right hands, but that it is so often abused that I wonder about whether the benefits are worth the costs, etc.

An Animated Transit-Oriented Romance

Feeling like you could use a good boost of pro-transit, pro-urban romance to brighten up your day?  Go online and see Paperman (link here), an Oscar-nominated short in which a romance arises on a downtown train that looks an awful lot like Chicago's El.

Urbanism and TV Theme Songs

In Walkable City, Jeff Speck points out that 1990s sitcoms tend to be more urban and more pro-urban than those of the 1950s and 1960s (which tended to be set in small towns or rural areas) or even the 1970s (often set in depressing or depressed urban locations, with the exception of "Mary Tyler Moore.")